Two NFL teams that deserve more attention: Why the Bengals, Niners are Super Bowl contenders


Cooper O'Kelly, Lead Sports Editor

This year in the NFL has been one full of ups and downs, with some surprise teams and some teams that haven’t quite met fans’ expectations. As we enter Week 15 of the season, it’s becoming increasingly clear which teams have good chances of winning the Super Bowl.

Two teams in particular have caught my eye as premium championship contenders that might not be getting talked about as much as they should be. The San Francisco 49ers and the Cincinnati Bengals should be consensus top tier teams. At this point in the season, they’re my prediction for conference champions.

The San Francisco 49ers
The biggest story surrounding the 49ers right now is quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s season-ending injury, and it has a lot of people freaking out. With the Niners now being down to their third string option in a QB dominated league, it’s certainly cause for concern. People may believe that this totally eliminates them from being contenders, but I disagree.

Garoppolo’s replacement Brock Purdy, last pick of the 2022 NFL Draft, came in midway through the game and to put it lightly, balled out. Purdy threw for 210 yards and two touchdowns while leading the Niners to a win over the Miami Dolphins, another very talented team. The following week, Purdy led his team to a blowout win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

This isn’t to say that Purdy is a great quarterback, but I do think he’s serviceable. His accuracy and pocket presence are both good, and more importantly he won’t lose games with costly mistakes. Having weapons like Christian McCaffrey and George Kittle also doesn’t hurt. If Deebo Samuel is able to recover from his injury in time for the playoffs, that would also be huge. While Purdy may not be able to scramble around and make dynamic plays to win his team games, these playmakers around him can.

What really sets this team apart is its defense. Arguably the best defensive unit in the league, the 49ers have been causing havoc on opposing offenses all season. Pro Bowl players like Nick Bosa and Fred Warner are key reasons for that, and I think they’ll show up and shut other teams down come playoff time.

The Cincinnati Bengals
Coming in as the reigning AFC Champions, the Bengals have had an interesting season so far. As a team that many expected to pick up right where they left off, the Bengals started out flat with a record of 2-3. Flash forward to today, and they’re on an impressive five game win streak and sitting at 9-4.

What makes this Bengals team so dangerous is their high-powered offense full of elite weapons. When you combine Joe Burrow with the best wide receiver core in the league and a top tier running back, good things are sure to follow. Scoring tons of points by feeding guys like Ja’Marr Chase and Joe Mixon has been Cincy’s recipe for success (when they’re healthy that is) and not many defenses are capable of slowing them down.

While a lot of the focus tends to go to Bengal skill position players, Burrow himself has been having an MVP caliber season. The third year QB has thrown for 3,685 yards and 27 touchdowns on the season, both good for second best in the league, while maintaining an impressive 68.1% completion percentage. Not to mention, these numbers have come in a season that’s been impacted by injuries, as Chase and Mixon have missed a combined six games thus far. Burrow has also had a bottom tier offensive line blocking for him all season, which makes his numbers that much more impressive.

Everyone knows a great offense isn’t enough to carry your team to a Super Bowl- you need to have the defense to back it up. While Cincinnati may not have a game-breaking defensive unit, it’s one that may be slept on. In their most recent game, they held elite Browns running-back Nick Chubb to only 34 rushing yards. They have a really solid pass-rush and the dynamic safety duo of Jessie Bates and Von Bell is certainly something to note.

Summing it up
These two teams may not be getting the attention that teams like the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles have been getting, but they deserve it. The Niners and Bengals may not be perfectly polished or flawless, but they have the pieces that it takes to hoist the Lombardi come February.